An apparatus and process for protecting metal from oxidation during metal forming operations. A salt is deposited onto at least a portion of a surface of the metal. The salt is heated in a protective environment until the salt melts on the metal to form a coated metal. The protective environment may then be removed and the coated metal may be exposed to an active environment. The coated metal may then be formed using standard metal forming processes. In alternative embodiments salts are selected for particular melting and vaporizing temperatures. An automated apparatus for coating a metal object with a salt may be provided. An applicator is configured to deposit the salt onto a surface of the metal object to form a salted metal object. A furnace is configured to receive the salted metal object and to melt at least a portion of the salt on the surface of the salted metal object. A conveyor system is configured to transport the metal object into and out of the applicator and configured to transport the salted metal object into and out of the furnace.